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The Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 7, 2016 

Listen to this homily (.mp3 file)

     If you came to church today hoping for some good news, you’re in luck.  The readings are full of good news – all three of them.  And what’s the good news?  The good news is that God calls sinners and actually depends on sinners to do his work.  And there’s even more good news. It’s this: nothing is impossible for God.

     The reading from Isaiah sets the stage.  Isaiah is favored with a vision of the all-holy God in all his majesty and glory. He hears the angelic chorus filling the heavens with their mighty hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy!” and suddenly he is overwhelmed by the enormous abyss that exists between him and God – between God’s holiness and his own sinfulness.  “Woe is me,” he says, “I am doomed!  For I am a man of unclean lips living among a people of unclean lips.”  But God reaches out to bridge the great abyss.  God sends one of the seraphim to touch Isaiah’s lips with a burning ember taken from the altar. In that moment Isaiah is a changed man, so much so that when God asks for someone He can send on a prophetic mission, Isaiah, no longer burdened by his overwhelming sense of sinfulness, quickly signs up:  “Here I am,” he says, "send me!”  Call that ‘good news, exhibit A.’ God calls sinners and depends on sinners to do his work.

     Exhibit B was in the gospel, a story we know well.  Jesus is teaching a large crowd of people at the Sea of Galilee.  The crowd on the shore is so large that Jesus decides to teach from Simon Peter’s boat. Luke adds a curious detail when he tells us that Jesus sat down in the boat to teach. He sat down, not so much because he needed to steady himself as the boat rocked and pitched; no, rabbis always sat down to teach.  It was a sign of their authority.

     When he had finished teaching Jesus told Simon Peter to put out into deep water and lower the nets for a catch.  At first, Peter tried to reverse the roles and play the teacher.  He was the one who knew about fishing, after all, not Jesus!  “Master,” he said, “we have worked all night and have caught nothing.”  But even though Peter was quite certain that there were no fish to be caught, he swallowed hard and, in an act of faith that must have surprised even himself, he said to Jesus, “but at your command I will lower the nets.” It was an act of faith that paid off: so great was the catch that the nets nearly gave way and Peter had to send for help from his on the other boat.

     And then there’s Peter’s response to Jesus. Did you notice how closely it resembled Isaiah’s response when he beheld God’s glory?  Isaiah had said, “Woe is me for I am unclean.” Peter said, “Depart from me for I am a sinful man!”  And just as Isaiah was cleansed from his sins, so was Peter.  And just as Isaiah was sent on a great mission, so was Peter. God calls sinners and depends on sinners to do his work.  Mark that ‘good news, exhibit B.’

     Exhibit C came in the second reading. Paul reminds the Corinthians of the various appearances of the risen Lord (to Peter, James, the Twelve, the 500 brothers), and then mentions himself, quickly adding that he really didn’t deserve to be an apostle at all for he had persecuted Christ’s church with a vengeance.  But his sins didn’t seem to count for much.  God had chosen him and called him and that was that!  God calls sinners and depends on sinners to do his work.  ‘Good news, exhibit C.’

     My friends, we have heard some very good news today, and there is even more good news in those readings:  there’s the exceedingly good news that for God nothing is impossible.  Luke sounds that theme often in his gospel. We heard it during Advent when the angel announced to Mary the impossible news that she, a virgin, would conceive and bear a child who would be the long-awaited savior; we heard it, too, when Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, childless because she was barren, conceived a child in her old age.  And of course, we heard it in today’s gospel when Peter and his friends hauled in  that great catch of fish from the lake.  Nothing is impossible for God.  Nothing can get in the way of God’s wonders: not our sinfulness, not our human limitations, not even nature itself – nothing!  Isaiah, Peter, Paul, and those two boats loaded down with freshly caught fish are ample evidence of that!

     My friends, we live in a world where bad news rules.  We can’t get away from bad news, can we?  It is everywhere and it can so easily drag us down, stymie us, immobilize us, turn us into cynics.  But we are believers!  We are people of the gospel, Good News people!  We know the stories of Isaiah, Peter, and Paul, and we know that the God who worked wonders for them and through them can do the same for us and through us.

     The God who turned Isaiah the priest into Isaiah the prophet, who turned Peter the fisherman into Peter the preacher, and Paul the persecutor into Paul the apostle, can do equally great things for us.  And our sins and failings and inadequacies, whatever they may be, really have nothing to do with it for God calls sinners and depends on sinners to do his work, and “Nothing is impossible for God!”

     Father Michael G. Ryan

 

 

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Seattle, Washington  98104
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